Back in August we were blessed to attend the World Meeting of Families in Ireland. We went with a pilgrimage group from the Lansing Diocese that included diocesan ministry staff and Fr. Mathias Thelen. We have had the privilege to visit many holy sites, including Fatima, Lourdes, Avila and Rome. These pilgrimages have been special in helping us to grow in our faith. As we have learned of the struggles, the miracles and the Apparitions of the Blessed Mother, we are reminded of the constant care and love of both Jesus and his Mother for the church.
So the idea of a trip to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families was exciting. With a bit of the Irish in my heritage I was especially interested in this beautiful country. To see the “GREEN”, lush countryside, the rugged cliffs, and to hear the waves crashing against every shore was inspirational. To celebrate with half a million people at the Papal Mass in Ireland was as beautiful as we had imagined.
As we climbed the cliffs of Moher, nothing could prepare us for the awesome view of the cliffs. As we stood at the top, we felt very small and in awe of God’s majesty. It was there that we began to realize this was indeed a pilgrimage, not just a vacation.
Along the way we celebrated Mass at so many Holy sites. Fr. Mathias encountered some challenges, but rose to each occasion. Sometimes rushing into a church, with very little time to prepare, but always with an attitude of reverence and an inspired homily. At one Mass (a public Mass), the Irish people applauded after his homily, because he spoke the truth and he spoke of Hope. We celebrated mass at many Holy sites including “Clonmacnoise” the monastic site chosen by St. Kevin, on the Shannon River, St. Mary’s pro Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and The Holy Cross Abbey, where we saw the relic of the true cross.
One place in particular moved us deeply. The Knock shrine in Mayo. As we drove along on the way to the shrine we saw many sheep in the fields behind miles of low stacked stone walls. Thinking about these sheep , we realized how these hardy, humble little animals go about their day eating and moving up and down the hillsides. Nothing profound, or glamorous about them. Or so I thought. As we entered the shrine of the apparition in Knock, It hit us. There on the high altar was “The Lamb”. He was beautiful, perfect, flawless and strong ,created in white marble. In front of the lamb stood our priest to celebrate the Eucharist.
The story of Knock is unique. On August 21(we were there on the anniversary) 1879, the Blessed Mother, St Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist appeared. Beside them and to the right was an altar with a cross and the figure of The Lamb, around which angels hovered. There were 15 official witnesses, young and old, who watched for two hours in the pouring rain and recited the rosary. Our Lady never spoke. Some feel she was simply calling us to pray… To enter into a deeper more contemplative faith. I invite you to visit the website to learn more about this little known Apparition.
The highlight of the our trip was yet to come. On Saturday, August 25, we started off from our hotel to walk to Croke Park ( Soccer stadium) to attend the closing ceremonies for the World Meeting of Families. We walked over 3 miles with thousands of others from around the world to attend.
This event was spectacular. Music, singers, testimonies, and over 500 Irish Dancers. Not to mention Andre Bocelli closing out the ceremony. When Pope Francis arrived, this massive crowd erupted in cheers, an atmosphere of joy. When our Pope spoke he did not shy away from the painful scandal in the Catholic church. He instead humbled himself to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Some say it wasn’t enough , that remains to be seen. The next morning we set out from our hotel to walk to the site of the Papal Mass at Phoenix Park. All the roads leading to the park were closed to traffic to allow the 500,000 people to walk the 4.5 miles. It rained and the wind blew most of the day. People came and kept coming, and coming. Near us there was a group from Haiti. These folks were all dressed up and wearing dress shoes and suits. It was such a witness to the honor that they felt in being there. We expected protests and were advised not to engage in discussion of politics and religion. This was not the case, there were no protests. Instead we were encouraged by groups gathered on the sides of the road to cheer us on, as we neared the park.
The Irish people have known persecution, famine, corruption and hardship for centuries. They still cherish their faith. We learned a great deal from them about being a faithful Catholic.
One of our fellow pilgrims said “I will not abandon Peter, because of Judas.” Bishop Barron said, “She’s worth fighting for.”
May God inspire you in all of your future travels!
Bill and Mary Beth Armbrustmacher